Every year, people say “the Oscars don’t even matter anymore.” It’s a common, almost tired refrain, and even one that I say a lot. Still, when the Oscars season starts, I and many others start our betting lists and make our prediction master sheets. The Oscars don’t matter, but we still care about who wins anyway.
The same can’t be said about this year’s show. It’s just not really on anybody’s radar. ”A guide to the 2021 Oscars, which are still happening,” Vox titled an article about the show. “Hollywood has limped into 2021,” the first sentence reads. Even a week ago, the New York Times wrote a story about Hollywood being worried about the viewing turnout. I didn’t even realize that it was happening until two days ago. Even the social media reception was a snooze: When posting an update on the Preen Instagram account, I noticed that the hashtag for this year’s ceremony was at the bottom.
Bright Wall/Dark Room, my personal favorite press about cinema, posted this tweet earlier about the Oscars that sums it all up pretty well.
The Oscars not mattering has never felt more true as it does this year. It’s hard to muster up the energy to care about an awards show that has already felt inconsequential for years—and one that has tried each year to make up for that by ramping up its pageantry—during a time when nothing is going right. (The same can be said about the Grammys, btw.)
It’s a stark contrast from last year, which felt like the most important Oscars in decades when Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” had a clean sweep. While this year too had its own fair share of historic wins, the celebration is unfortunately marred by the total indifference that the show garnered.
That’s not to say that the winners didn’t deserve their awards. I’m very happy about Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) and Youn Yuh‑jung’s (“Minari”) best supporting actor and actress wins. Yuh-jung is a Korean legend, and Kaluuya has but certified himself as a star (“Skins” hive rise). The “Nomadland” wins! Chloé Zhao won best director, making her both the second woman to win the category and the first Asian American to win. (She’s the second Asian person in general, after Bong Joon Ho’s historic win last year.)
But there were also so many bewildering choices. Instead of the Grammys and other recent award shows, which were mostly done through Zoom, the Oscars decided to do more of a regular broadcast, with the nominees physically present. “It was a noble effort,” writes Richard Lawson for Vanity Fair. “But the broadcast’s alienating effect [by presenting it in business as usual fashion] ran in bad parallel with the fact that this year’s crop of nominated movies were seen by a lot fewer people than in a typical year.”
Also? In a year where we had so many losses, the show’s “In Memoriam” was breathlessly quick, with so many names left out. It’s, dare I say, an unfathomably stupid and insensitive move. The Oscars’ “In Memoriams” have always been on the bad side, but you’d think they’d take better care and attention this year.
But the most obvious questionable choice is the format change: Best picture, unlike other years, was not the last award to be presented. Instead, it was the best actor and actress awards. The producers were ostensibly banking on Chadwick Boseman getting a posthumous win for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”—check all the betting polls and predictions, he was on everyone’s top radar, followed by Steven Yeun (“Minari”)—but the award instead went to Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t even there.
The format change effectively both sidelined the “Nomadland” wins, robbing Chloé Zhao of the moment she deserved, and ruined what momentum the show was able to round up. Had Boseman won, the show could have ended with a great tribute to an accomplished and beloved actor that passed too soon, almost making up for the lackluster “In Memoriam.”
Instead, the Academy Awards 2021 ended with a whimper, which sounds about right.